PETALING JAYA, Mar 3: A health expert has sought to reassure filmgoers that the reopening of cinemas poses a low risk of virus transmission if standard operating procedures (SOPs) can be established and followed.

Dr Sanjay Rampal, a public health medicine professor at Universiti Malaya, told FMT the time might be right to allow not just cinemas but all businesses to operate since community transmission appeared to have gone down of late.

Movie theatres have faced great difficulty since the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, experiencing several closures as a result of movement control orders. They have finally been allowed to reopen following calls from industry players.

According to the Malaysian Association of Film Exhibitors, the sector has seen a 90% drop in year-on-year revenue as a result of restrictions and repeated shutdowns, with more than a quarter of cinemas forced to close permanently.

Rampal noted that all parties had had a year to learn about the risks associated with living with the virus and said lockdowns should be used sparingly for them to be a sustainable form of intervention

He said mask wearing and hand sanitisation, as well as some degree of social distancing, would be most important in improving safety in theatres.

Azrul Khalib, CEO of health think tank, the Galen Centre, said it was sufficient to adhere to earlier SOPs implemented during the conditional MCO, which at that time capped cinema attendance at half capacity and mandated socially distanced seating arrangements.

He agreed that if patrons wore masks throughout the show when not eating or drinking and followed sanitisation procedures, the risks associated were no greater than the risks at other permitted activities such as exhibitions and conferences.

“The local cinema and film industry is a vital component of the economy,” he said. “It provides for thousands of jobs, sustains downstream businesses and generates millions in tax revenue.

“Many of those affected, especially those working the ticket and beverage counters, are young people who ordinarily would depend on their wages to get them through university or as an introduction to the job market.”


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